I In The Pyramid

Secrets from inside Steve Jackson Games.

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One Opportunity Inspires A New Game

"The question of where ideas come from is on the mind of anyone visiting a research lab, an artist's workshop, or an inventor's studio. It's the secret we hope to see -- the magic that happens when new things are born.”
— Scott Berkun, The Myths of Innovation

When you have a strong relationship with a major retail partner, new opportunities come in at unexpected moments:

* Holes in a planogram need to be filled at the last moment.
* A new buyer assembles a last-minute display.
* Sales of one item spike suddenly, leading the buyer to search for similar items.

You can never tell what each day will bring. The one thing you can be certain of is that every unexpected opportunity will lead to a rush of ideas . . . And sometimes those ideas grow into an entirely new thing.


In July -- right as the madness of San Diego Comic-Con was tearing my mind apart and turning the office into Thunderdome -- we got a call. A key retail partner wanted to see pitches for tiny, inexpensive games. I took a few moments to let the fear fade and then gave Sam, Andrew, and Randy the rough requirements, setting a meeting time for the next day.

From gallery of PhilReed
About fifteen hours later, Andrew and Randy joined me in my office to sit at the table and try two little games.

One was a dice game that Andrew suggested, inspired by a larger dice game Steve had been working on for a year or two.

The other was a game suggested by Sam (who would have been there if he hadn't been on vacation; yes, many of us answer mail and work while supposedly off the clock) that used a die as the tool for a dexterity game.

Both games worked great. About 30 minutes later, we had enough sketched out to work with production and marketing on the official pitches. It had been less than 24 hours since the unexpected retail opportunity landed on my desk.

A day later, Randy, Andrew, and I sat down with Steve so he could see what we had put together. Dice tossing, rolling, and laughter told us the two games worked -- and worked well.

At the end of the meeting, Steve challenged us. Could we build something out of the two game designs that was larger, more involved, and better suited to our market? And could we have one of those bigger games ready to launch in 2015?


From gallery of PhilReed
Over several emails among Sam, Steve, and myself, the ideas grew more and more complicated, building into a $10 game that we felt had strong potential in the market.

The final piece of the puzzle fell into place a few days later, when I stopped by the Topps booth at San Diego Comic-Con and suggested a Mars Attacks-themed dexterity game. It took me five minutes to secure their initial approval, so I immediately mailed Sam and set him to work.

By the time I was back from the convention, Sam and Randy had built and playtested the new game, multiple times, in and out of the office. The first time I sat down to play the game, it was roughly 90% of the way to its final form. I made one tiny tweak of my own, but Sam and Randy really made the game happen.

Less than two weeks from the the initial idea, it was time for me to visit Topps in NYC and secure final approval for the game.

I love when game ideas come together quickly.
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Mon Oct 20, 2014 7:48 pm
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